Manafort has spent the last two months managing an elaborate, process-laden campaign to stop an insurrection among Republicans eager to derail Trump's candidacy. From the start, Manafort and other Trump loyalists insisted that they would successfully quash any attempt to rob Trump of the Republican nomination. But the GOP hadn't faced the possibility of a contested convention since 1976, and other assurances by Trump or his team had been disproven or fell short.
But on Thursday night, Trump & Co. prevailed — decisively beating back attempts to change the rules of the Republican National Convention and reopen the contest.
Manafort was eager to explain how it happened. Here is a transcript, edited for length and clarity, of an interview conducted late Thursday night that began as the Republican National Convention rules committee drew to a close.
Question: Your team was remarkably well-organized today. From whipping the votes to the messages delivered by your supportive delegates. How did it come together?
Manafort: "First of all, the fairness of the argument was persuasive to people. Secondly, we have a machine, a political organization that we’ve been telling you about. And three, to those people who were not part of 'Never Trump,' they realized the race was over. And to try and change the rules now would destroy the party. It was a combination of people who were for Trump, people who care about the party and people who were persuaded by the moral argument as well.
"All the money that was spent by the Never Trump people, they weren’t even delegates. They’re sitting on the sidelines pretending that they had these votes, which they never did. I never had any doubt. I was never worried that they would get 28 votes. Plus, I was never worried that if they did that it would matter on the floor.
"It never had any credibility and there was never going to be anything to carry the floor. You saw the arguments being made. It wasn’t persuasive, it was desperation, it was meanness, people trying to break the system. It just wasn’t going to be credible.
"This convention is going to be a unifying convention. You’re going to see over the next five days the party coming together. I’m talking about on the convention floor, at the podium, and the distraction of the rules fight and the platform fight were just distractions. They were never threats.
"If you look back at this week, the platform hearings and now the rules hearings, we had a very good week. We have a platform that has Trump’s campaign positions all over it. and you’ve got the rules that were adopted that did two things. One, it took out Never Trump but it also will be calling for a commission to be formed to discuss the issues Trump talked about in the primaries. From our standpoint, this was not the time to tinker with the rules, but after he’s president — based on the commission that’s formed — we’ll deal with an investigation and figure out how best to make the system fairer and more transparent."
[Note: During the Republican National Convention rules committee meeting on Thursday, the panel agreed to establish a study group to review the presidential nomination process — a move endorsed by Trump, according to Manafort.]
Question: What specifically would Trump support changing in the nomination process?
Manafort: "What he cares about is what he talked about in the campaign — transparency and voter awareness. We’ll deal with those issues. We don’t have any particular position going in. We have attitudes going in and we’ll deal with them after the election. We’re not trying to take over the RNC or play internal politics. Trump said he wanted a system that’s fair and transparent. The rules couldn’t be changed during the primaries, they shouldn't have been. The rules shouldn't have been changed today.
"Plus, we’re happy that we removed the heavy-handedness of the Romney campaign four years ago when they changed a rule that’s been around for ages on the number of states [needed to have a presidential candidate placed into nomination] from five to eight. What Romney did then was pure selfish politics and we returned it to a fairer system this time. We’re very comfortable with the results. We think the Trump mark is clearly on the convention before it’s even started. And we think we’re going to have a great program coming together next week."
Question: So how did you unite your campaign with the RNC, which was opposed to rules changes? There were competing agendas — it must have required significant massaging of egos.
Manafort: "I’ve been doing this for 40 years.
"We had a solid team. We had a good group of people. We weren’t heavy-handed. We talked to people. We gauged their opinions, found out what they were concerned about and patched together a group that’s been frankly in place for a long time.
"We’ve known for about a month that we were going to be fine. That’s the point that never really got reported. Most of the noise you were hearing was from people outside the system that’d already lost. They were trying to change the game again. But they lost in the primaries, they lost after he became the presumptive nominee. And they lost again today.
Question: How did Chairman Reince Priebus do through this whole process?
Manafort: "I think he did very well. He showed a lot of leadership. A lot of the votes that happened today were also an endorsement of his six-year tenure and of what he’s done over the last four years.
"We’re going to come out of Cleveland unified with a good field operation, with all the technical requirements we’re going to need and with a candidate that is the epitome of change in a year of change."
Question: When will Trump hold his vice-presidential announcement?
Manafort: "We’ll be putting out something tomorrow [Friday] morning."
Question: Will Trump meet with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tomorrow? What about with any other vice-presidential prospects?
Manafort: "I’m not going to speak for him. He’ll make a statement tomorrow. And he’ll clarify how we’re going to go forward on the issue."
Question: When will we hear about other speakers at the convention? And what about Tim Tebow, who said tonight that it was merely a rumor he was going to speak at the convention?
Manafort: "We got too many people who want to speak. Frankly, I don’t know that Tebow was ever formally on the list as a speaker. I think that was someone’s thought. I’m not particularly sure. My problem right now is trying to find space for all the people that we’ve agreed to have speak and so it’s not going to be an issue. It’s going to be a good program."
Q: Is it true that Tom Selleck is going to have some kind of role?
Manafort: "No, that's not happening.
"Just remember, the quote you can use is this: Never Trump is never more."